HARARE, Zimbabwe – The gloom among some Zimbabweans following elections last week was evident on a recent minibus ride into Harare as conversation turned to politicsPassengers stared at the passing landscape of winter-scorched grass and scattered trees. Gradually, conversation turned to politics.
Johannes Murefu, a 35-year-old, wondered aloud about the disputed election in which President Robert Mugabe was declared the winner over Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who had been his partner in an awkward coalition.
"This time the election has not been stolen from Tsvangirai, but from the people," said Murefu recalling disputed and violent elections in 2008 when Tsvangirai dropped out because of deadly attacks on his supporters.
Murefu said he and his friends hope for the country's leadership to bring jobs and greater freedoms to mix and speak openly about their worries. However, reflecting a widespread sentiment here, Murefu is resigned to five more years under Mugabe, who has been in power since independence in 1980.
One phrase that comes up often with Mugabe opponents is "Vakariga," which means "They rigged the elections" in the local Shona language. The malaise runs deep.
Marjory Mukwenya, a street vendor, said she would never vote again.
"It's just a game for these politicians," she said. "They don't take us seriously, so why should we care?"
Today, police officers backed by trucks with mounted water cannons watch over "Freedom Square," the name given to an open field in downtown Harare by Tsvangirai supporters who jubilantly rallied there in the tens of thousands before the July 31 election. Since then they have fallen into disbelief and confusion as Tsvangirai attributes his loss to vote-rigging. They are struggling for direction and, despite the idealistic nickname given to the deserted field where they once gathered, the chances of a popular uprising similar to those in the Mideast and North Africa are remote.
Tsvangirai seeks to avoid violent confrontation and is contesting the election results in court. Supporters of Mugabe, a former rebel who tightly controls Zimbabwe, scoff at accusations of election fraud, and there seems little chance that the results will be overturned.
That leaves Zimbabwe where it was before, locked in tension, its divided population unable to reconcile, its economy unable to get moving as many investors keep their distance. These days, trucks of riot police and soldiers, along with a ring of road blocks on main highways, are a common sight in Harare, the capital.
More police, some in riot gear, were deployed outside Tsvangirai's downtown headquarters Friday as businesses prepared for a long holiday weekend honoring the guerrilla war that swept Mugabe to power.
Knots of supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party have gathered outside its headquarters, though the party has not held any official celebrations.
"The reality is people voted in peace and tranquility, the elections were free and fair and quite credible as far as we are concerned," party spokesman Rugare Gumbo said.
Mugabe's office said an inauguration will happen after court challenges to the poll are resolved. Mugabe will address Heroes' holiday celebrations Monday and Tuesday, hugely symbolic to his party because of its association with independence.
Thabani Nyoni, a civic activist, said many voters felt betrayed by regional and African election observers who have cited irregularities in voters' lists and the conduct of polling but still commended the election for the absence of widespread violence and intimidation.
South African President Jacob Zuma, the chief mediator on Zimbabwe's decade-old political and economic crisis, is among regional leaders who commended the poll for generally reflecting the will of voters without violence. Botswana, another neighbor of Zimbabwe, was a rare dissenter, saying there were serious problems.
Nyoni, the civic activist, said Mugabe's coalition with Tsvangirai saw improvements and liberalization in the economy, steered mainly by the finance ministry controlled by Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party. Mugabe, no longer bound by his former coalition partners, has vowed to push ahead with a black empowerment program that he says was hindered by Tsvangirai-backed efforts to attract Western investment.
AP correspondent Angus Shaw in Harare contributed to this report.